A mechanic’s daughter, my earliest car memories & how I’ve outsourced my vehicle maintenance.

My dad is a mechanic.

I don’t talk about family much, mostly because mine is a bit of a mess, but in brainstorming posts for Toyota Women’s Influencer Network, my mind immediately went to the Before Times, when I was a wee little bear and spent days with my dad at work. When I think of anything and everything car related, I think of my dad.

I don’t know why I’d go to work with him. Probably because it was a Saturday he was working and because it was his visitation weekend and probably because I loved it. I loved peeking into the tool box, pulling out drawers and peeking at wrenches and all manner of shiny, silvery tools. I loved hanging out in the waiting room, catching up on some Saturday morning cartoons and flipping through magazines, declaring to anyone who asked that I was going to be a comedian when I grew up and then telling ridiculous jokes that maybe only 6-year-olds could find funny.

And the smell. That shop smell, the smell of oil and gas and grease and car parts. There’s nothing like it. It smells like home to me, safe, in a way. Familiar.

My memory is often jogged by scent, just like it’s jogged by a favorite old song, or the sound of ocean waves, and each and every time I walk in some shop, which isn’t often because I’ve managed to outsource car maintenance to my husband, but still – each and every time I visit a shop, I think of my dad. I think of running around the shop, of sitting on a spinning stool and watching my dad work, of taking it all in, of feeling like I was getting a special treat, seeing the inner workings of a maintenance shop.

My dad’s hands were always dirty. Always. Always grease under the nails, always oil caught in the creases where his fingers met his palms. And maybe dirty isn’t the right word – he washed his hands – scrubbed them, in fact – but they were stained. Stained from the grease and the oil.

When I think back to my childhood, and the times I spent with my dad, his grease-stained hands are one of my clearest memories.

I like my husband for a lot of reasons. He gives me back rubs. He gets me candy and makes me brownies. He refills my water-glass when I pout about it being empty. He takes the dogs for walks and occasionally mows the lawn. He’s also taken over the car maintenance for both our cars, which I like, but which I also miss. It’s not that I miss sitting in a waiting room waiting for an oil change, but that I miss the chance to be in a garage, to take a few minutes to breathe it all in and remember how much fun I used to have at the shop with my dad. I don’t miss enough to trade responsibilities, of course, but I do miss the change to indulge in a bit of nostalgia.

Disclosure: I was selected for participation in the TWIN community through a program with Clever Girls Collective. I did not receive any compensation for writing this post, or payment in exchange for participating. The opinions expressed herein are mine, and do not reflect the views of Toyota.

Farm raised, near meatlessness, and the best damn tacos I’ve ever had.

My eating habits have been known to confuse people. I tend to order vegetarian options while dining out, not because I’m a vegetarian, but because I really like vegetables and because I didn’t grow up with the concept of meat being a mandatory part of my meals. I did, however, grow up picking fresh tomatoes from the vine and eating them whole, and I think my early childhood experiences eating raw vegetables fresh from the Earth cultivated within me a deep love of all things fruit and vegetable.

Really though, I’m not a vegetarian. I eat meat. Sometimes. I’ll get the occasional steak and it’s hard to keep me away from bacon, but meat is something I rarely crave and it’s not something I miss when I don’t have it every day or even every week. I’m weird about meat, I guess. I don’t like to handle it raw and I’ve got such an aversion to chicken that I’ve essentially cut it out of my diet. I think I know too much about how chickens are raised for mass consumption and after driving past a few chicken farms on the way to the beach a few years ago, I just can’t do it anymore. The stench was awful and it made all those horrible images I’ve seen in food documentaries come to life.

I guess maybe I’ve always had a weird relationship with food. Growing up on a farm does that I guess. We raised chickens and cows and pigs and ducks for meat and I was all good with that. I could feed a chicken on Tuesday and eat it for dinner Wednesday, no problem. And if I knew that what was on my table came from a place like that, where chickens really did run around free range, where cows really were grass fed and where ducks spent their days floating and flapping around a pond, I’d probably eat more meat. But, those documentaries have scarred me for life. I can’t get the images out of my head and what’s worse, when the meat I eat is poor quality, my stomach can tell. I can eat the hell out of some Whole Foods grass-fed hamburgers, but you plop a Big Mac in front of me and while I’ll champion through and eat the shit, I’m sure to regret it within the hour.

At home, we’re mostly meatless. A lot of people are alarmed by this, wondering how we can survive without slabs of meat gracing our kitchen counters, but I think we do okay. We’re well-fed, really. Eating dinner without meat isn’t that hard, and meat isn’t really a requirement for a well-rounded meal.

One of my favorite things to make and eat are black bean tacos. Except for these are not any black bean tacos, these are the best fucking tacos in all the land. They’re based on this recipe and they beat out any other taco I’ve eaten. Ever.

MAGICALLY DELICIOUS BLACK BEAN TACOS.

Makes 4-8 tacos, depending on how you like your bean to taco toppings ratio.

You will need:

1 can black beans, rinsed.
1/2 teaspoon cumin.
1 tablespoon lime juice.
2 cups coleslaw mix – we use Trader Joe’s broccoli slaw, but any slaw, broccoli or cabbage, will do.
cilantro, around a handful, chopped.
feta cheese.
corn tortillas.
1/2 an avocado, chopped, if you want to get a little crazy.
olive oil.
salt and pepper.

FIRST.

Take your black beans, all rinsed and drained and pretty-like, put them in a bowl and add the cumin. Mash the beans and the cumin together, lightly. Don’t worry about mashing all the beans, just get it all good and mixed and cumin-covered and mildly mashed.

SECOND.

Grab another bowl, add the slaw, chopped cilantro, lime juice, avocado (which is totally optional by the way), a little salt, a little pepper and then stir it all up. I like to taste the slaw to be sure it’s got enough lime on it and to be sure it’s a little salty and a little peppery. I like a lot of flavor and tend to just add lime juice until I feel like it’s got enough of a kick.

THIRD.

Heat around a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan on medium to medium-high heat. Once that’s nice and toasty, add a tortilla to the pan, put a spoonful or two of beans on one side of the tortilla, then flip the empty tortilla side over the bean side to make a taco shape.

Let the taco cook for a minute or two, flip it, then let it cook on the other side until it gets crispy and golden. Once both sides are crispy and delicious, transfer to a plate.

FOURTH.

I’m kind of a crazy person and so for some reason, I rip up little squares of aluminum foil to put my tacos in after they come off the stove. I don’t wrap them, really, but putting them in the center of a diamond of tin foil, then joining the corners over the top of the taco helps it all stay together better.

So, put your taco on it’s tin foil piece, open up the taco a little bit, being careful not to burn your fingers off, stuff some of the slaw mixture in the taco, then add a healthy amount of feta on top and close the taco back up.

Continue cooking tacos until all your beans are gone. Add additional oil to the pan as needed.

ENJOY.

The truth of the matter is, feta + lime + taco = perfection. And I’d eat these tacos over any meat-ridden taco I’ve ever met.

The 11th Anniversary.

Eleven years ago today, my friend David took his own life. I write about it every year, trying to capture what his death meant to me then and what it means to me still. But I’ve never written about the day he died, at least not in any great detail. I meant to. I assumed after it happened I would get moments of clarity and be able to succinctly recount the details of April 6, 2000, but the clarity never came. But now it’s more than a decade later and it feels like now might be the right time to tell the story.

David was in my English class. He lived just a few neighborhoods over from me. He had brown eyes, an unforgettable laugh, six-pack abs and smelled like the leather from his jacket. Early in 2000, David attempted an overdose. He was out from school for a while, but survived the ordeal and came back. My friends and I gathered around him, one on each arm, clinging, glad to have him there. We didn’t know all the details, but we knew something had happened and that we should be lucky to still have him in our lives. The doctors who had treated him suggested he get psychiatric treatment, but he didn’t want to and his parents didn’t press it or prioritize it.

David and I dated, briefly. Our romantic relationship lasted roughly as long as Britney Spears’ first marriage. He broke it off with me, April 5th, 2000, telling me he didn’t want me to get hurt, a sentiment he would also share with friends the next day.

On April 6th, David drove me to school. He drove me home too. On the way to his car, a 1987 Honda Civic Hatchback, we bummed a single cigarette from a friend. We shared it on the way to my house and I regret, to this day, not offering him more of it. He asked me, on the way home if I wanted him to pick me up the next morning for school. He said he’d come a little later, after the bus, and I was worried he’d oversleep and I wouldn’t get to school on time. So I said no, I’d be fine. I’d take the bus and see him in class. He asked if I was sure, and again I said I’d be fine. When we got to my house, he asked me again, with a weird look, if I was absolutely sure he didn’t want me to pick him up. Again, I said no, I’d be fine. I thanked him for the ride and instead of pulling away right away, like he usually did, he waited for me to get to the door before driving off.

That was 2:36 PM.

That night I was scheduled to sell concessions before and during the intermission of my school’s performance of Cinderella. Before the show I saw my friend Josh who heard some kid from our school named David had killed himself. He said it had been on the news. I told him that was sad and that I hoped it wasn’t anyone I knew. Honestly, the thought of it being the David I knew was the furthest thing from my mind. I had seen him just a few hours before and he was alive, so surely, whoever Josh was talking about was someone else, some unknown person.

I was called into an office to speak with my principle and English teacher. They said it was about David. I was nervous, not because I remembered what Josh had said, but because David had stopped at a park on the way to school to smoke pot and I was with him. While I didn’t partake, and while I vividly remember David’s frustration with my refusal to get high before school, I was afraid the school had somehow found out and that I was about to get suspended for something I wasn’t guilty of, or worse, they were going to question me about David’s actions that morning. I mentally searched the contents of my purse and for once was thankful I wasn’t carrying a pack of cigarettes.

But I wasn’t in trouble. They told me something had happened to David. There had been some sort of accident. David had died.

I asked if they were sure. I asked how they knew, if they really, really knew that it was my David, the David who sat next to me in the my high school English class. Surely it was another David Smith – that’s a pretty common name, right? This could be a mistake. There was a moment of confusion. The school listed him as a freshman, even though he was in sophomore English and for a moment, I thought they were wrong. I thought it was some fucked up mistake that I’d laugh about someday. I thought for sure it wasn’t true.

But my English teacher said no, they knew who it was. It was David Smith, my David Smith. They were sure. It wasn’t a mistake.

The tears started, in earnest this time, as my mind tried to come up with some other explanation, some other response that could make this whole thing disappear. I was standing, then sitting. I was staring at the floor, memorizing the floor tiles trying to catch my breath and rationalize what was happening. Someone gave me a box of tissues. I asked what happened. My principle said he had fallen from a bridge. She said maybe it was a mistake, maybe he had just fallen. I said no. I knew better. I knew it wasn’t a mistake. David had jumped.

My English teacher and principle said they wanted me to know before I saw it on the news and that they were going to announce it after the show. They knew we were close and were worried about what would happen if I found out the wrong way.

Marie, a theater friend, drove me home. I kept the box of tissues. They were crap. Rough, public school tissues in a green box. I kept smoothing out the corners. Fidgeting. Crying.

I got home and collapsed. I cried on the floor, waiting for my mother to get home so we could go somewhere, anywhere but there, and when she finally did we drove for a while, West on I-66, listening to Sarah McLachlan as I chain smoked Marlboro Reds.

From the road I called my best friend, to let her know what had happened.

When I got home there was a wailing message from another friend in English class. Someone from the school had called her too. For two minutes she had cried into my answering machine begging and pleading for it to be a mistake. Over and over she cried, saying “not David, please not David.”

When all the details got put together I learned that David had left my house at 2:36 PM and driven to an overpass about 15 minutes away. I was the last person to see him alive. He had tried to drive his car over the overpass, but, when that failed, he got out and jumped. David was a swimmer. He dove. He died on impact. And the local headlines the next day reported on how the death of a local man had backed up traffic on Northern Virginia interstates.

There’s more to the story. There’s a decade worth of me trying to make sense of it. There’s the funeral. The wake. There’s a tree I carved with his initials. There’s the way I heard people at my school, who didn’t know who I was, talking about how it was my fault because we’d broken up the day before. There’s the way his mother cried at the funeral. There’s the voice recording they later played for me that made it all seem like a bad dream. There’s the memories. There’s the tattoo I got to memorialize him.The indelible mark he left on me.

There’s so much, just like there was so much to David. He was thinking about joining the Navy, about getting a tattoo of a big Celtic cross on his right arm. He taught himself to do headstands. His birthday was the day before mine and every single year that has passed I think about how old he would be.

He’d be 27, just like me.

I try each year to make sense out of what happened, to figure out what I could have done, to sort out the guilt I will forever harbor. But I’m still not there yet. I still don’t understand it. I probably never will.

Losing David was bigger than any hurt I’ve ever felt before or since. I cannot explain it, no matter how hard I try. It is horrible. But David dying taught me how to live. The weight and hurt that he caused me and so many of my peers was something I knew I could never do to anyone else.

So I lived.

Rest in Peace, David. I love you. I miss you. I forgive you.

Movin' on up, knowing and unknowing, & something resembling leadership.

Yesterday, I got promoted. I’d known it was coming for more than month now. And the waiting didn’t really even bother me. But yesterday, after 7 years and some change in the Virginia Army National Guard, I was promoted from Sergeant to Staff Sergeant.

In the Before Times, when I first enlisted, I didn’t really ever think about making it this far. I assumed I’d fulfill my six-year commitment, get my degree for free (!!) and start my life. I was just 19. I didn’t have any idea what was to come. I didn’t think it would change me much. It would just be something I’d do.I’d be a Soldier. I’d gain some skills, kick some ass, and have a neat bullet point to put on my résumé.

But then real life happened. I deployed. I fell out of love and in love and got divorced and got married and bought a house and got a baby dog and a good job and life just exploded and before I knew it, when my life had flipped upside down and upside right, I’d almost reached the end of my first six-year military obligation and I had the option to sign up for another few years and get promoted and enter a whole new phase of my military career as a leader. And I jumped at it. It was a no-brainer. Of course I was going to re-up. There wasn’t even a question. I signed on the dotted line for another six years and then, just a few weeks later, they promoted me to Sergeant and my career as a Soldier, as someone who needed to be someone else’s responsibility, started to slip way. And I became a leader. Just like that.

That was more than two years ago. And now I’ve taken another step. I’m even more of a leader. Other Soldiers, other leaders, see me and expect me to be responsible. They expect me to know how things work, to know the system, to understand and live by the Army values. And that’s sort of weird. Every day that I wear a uniform I learn something new, I discover something I feel like I should have known and I realize how much I have to learn. And I’m caught between feeling so proud and so ready for this and so excited for this promotion and feeling like I’m still that little, scared, naive, totally unprepared private that I was at 19.

But then…I look at my life. I look at all the things I’ve figured out. I look at all the things I’ve done, and I’m struck by two things:

1. It’s okay to not have it all figured out. There have probably been several thousand times when I’ve encountered new and foreign situations that I didn’t know how to handle. But I figured it the fuck out. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re not supposed to have it all figured out, there’s no real manual that explains all the bullshit and all the little bits and the high points and the low points and how to handle situations that seem upside down and backwards so you figure it out. You work it out. You make it work and you learn from it. You grow. You gain experience. You learn as you go, make the rules as you go, you change the rules for different situations and you make it work.

2. I’ve done a lot of cool shit. I’ve deployed. I’ve helped people sort out their issues. I’ve flown in Black Hawk helicopters. I’ve met amazing people and have had life changing experiences. When I went to Warrior Leader Course, an Army course on how to be leader, I was in the top ten percent of my class. They even nominated me for a fucking leadership award! Clearly, even if I don’t think I know what I’m doing, other people do. Last year I got an Honorable Mention for a national-level journalism competition. The congratulations I’ve received since getting this promotion are real. People really are happy for me. Last week, a request came for me to co-anchor an online news program. I’ve gotten married and put together a home that I love and created a life for myself.

Bottom line: I’m going to rock this. I’m going to learn and grow and gain so much from this and I’m ready. I don’t know everything, but I don’t have to.

Flashback Friday: Love, the Kosovo & Poety Bits

When I was deployed to Kosovo, I got this poetry book. It’s got 366 poems and it’s meant to be read everyday. Poetry Daily. One poem a day for a whole year. Since I wasn’t keeping a journal at the time, I decided to use the poetry book as a way to organize my thoughts. Mostly, I just wrote in the margins my thoughts on the poem of the day. Sometimes I just underlined words or poem bits that I liked.

There was a lot going on then. My world was upside crazy. Batshit crazy. I spent a lot of time thinking about things. Life. Love. How nice it was to not have to do my own laundry. How much I missed cooking my own dinner. How weird it was to sleep in a twin sized bed and share a bathroom with 25 other women.

I flipped through the poetry book yesterday and found this, from January 24, 2007, on page 398 next to a poem called “Ballad” by Sonia Sanchez:

Is there a moment, some span of time that we are just right for love? Are we ever too young for love? Are first crushes at 12 and 13 nothing really because we are far too young for such an adult thing? Does sex cause this? Why is sex so wrapped up in love? But what about being too old? Too old to learn to love? I think love just is. Love exists when and how it wants to, regardless of age or situation – love just exists, purely for its self – no one else. It enters when it feels like it, regardless of how inappropriate or rude it may be, and then, when tired of its own self, it leaves. Quietly. So quietly you might not even have heard it close the door on its way out. Sometimes it stays, sometimes it doesn’t. Love just is. It is beyond definition, beyond limitations, expectations and qualifications. Love is Love.

It’s weird that I wrote this. I have no memory of writing it down. No recollection of what my current mood or state of mind was. Sure, there was some love shit going on in my life, but I didn’t expect to look back and seem so okay with everything. I guess peace comes when we least expect it.